January 10, 2014

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “The Assets”


THE ASSETS:  Thursday 10PM on ABC

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on THE ASSETS:  In 1980s Washington, the hunt is on for a CIA agent who’s actually a mole for the KGB.  But there’s no mystery for viewers, who know that the double agent is Aldrich Ames (Paul Rhys).  The agent who doesn’t know, and has been tasked with tracking down the leaks, is Sandy Grimes (Jodie Whittaker), whose real-life counterpart wrote the book (with fellow agent Jeanne Vertefeuille) on which The Assets is based.

Episode 2:  The premiere of The Assets was dismal in just about every way, not just blah or worse in quality but boasting one of the lowest in-season ratings debuts for any Big 4 network series in history.  This brief follow-up is to confirm that on the creative side, there was no miraculous turnaround in Week 2.  The show’s second hour, written (as was the first) by Executive Producer Drew Chapman and directed by Jeff T. Thomas, was as dull and uninvolving as the first.

The episode was built around the defection of a Russian agent who claimed to have first-hand knowledge of an American mole.  Ames himself was put in charge of interrogating the man, which prompted him to take many, many yearning looks at his pen with its cyanide capsule  (we’d already seen that the capsule worked on one of Ames’s assets in the USSR), with thoughts of using it either on the defector or himself while he waited for the man to gradually disclose what he knew.  Meanwhile, Grimes was ordered to look into how much danger the CIA’s own moles were in, especially a Russian general with the code name Top Hat.  Since this was just the second hour of an 8-hour series (and this wasn’t Homeland), it was obvious that Ames’s secret wasn’t about to be revealed to everyone watching the video feed of the interrogation, and in fact the defector turned out to know about a completely different US mole, a former CIA agent, which not only cleared Ames but turned everyone’s attention in the wrong direction.  (Top Hat didn’t fare as well.)

The script was efficient enough in laying all this out, but The Assets continues to suffer from an almost complete lack of characterization and color.  Ames and Grimes are simply boring, without any substance for Rhys or Whittaker to build upon, and there’s not even any fun to be had in the 1980s atmosphere.  Compared to the overlapping The Americans, ABC’s show feels like a rough story outline that unaccountably got filmed.

As noted, the premiere rating for The Assets was abysmal, and the only reason it’s likely to stay on the air is that there are only 6 episodes left in an otherwise empty hour (Scandal, like most serialized shows, repeats badly), and several of those episodes will air in throwaway slots against the Winter Olympics.  In a more typical circumstance, it would probably be canceled within the week.  Sadly, the series hasn’t earned any better.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  Change the Channel

PILOT + 1:  Some Spies Should Never Be Found



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."